Portuguese for beautiful island, Ilhabela carries its name well. Considered a natural paradise by both locals and visitors alike, the island is a kaleidoscope of beautiful beaches, lush tropical rainforests and an incredible 360 waterfalls. Located a four hour drive (and a 15-minute ferry ride) from São Paolo, 85% of the island is a UNESCO-Biosphere Reserve. While people may come initially to Ihalbela for its famous beaches, (one of which was named as a top ten worldwide beach by The Guardian), expect much greater things that just sunning and relaxing in the shade from this little island. With almost 25 miles/40 kilometres of pristine beaches, fun in the sun is certainly always an option, but Ilhabela is also a vibrant little city, full of vivacity and history, just waiting to be discovered.
Located on the west coast of the island, Ilhabela town still shows signs of its colonial past, examples of which can be see through the local architecture. Perhaps one of the most photogenic chapels you will see on the island is the Nossa Senhora D’Ajuda. Built in 1806, the Catholic church is a pretty little white-washed building set on a hill, positioned as if protecting over the town. Decked with colourful bunting much of the time, the church is filled to the rafters on holy days with locals expressing their faith. The interior of the church has signs of faded grand charm, much like the city itself. Several miles before the entrance to town, on the way to the ferry, is the Princess’ House, an impressive 18th-century mansion belonging to the Fazenda Engenho d’Agua, one of the most important of Ilhabela’s many former sugar plantations.